Leah Belanger is a Texas resident who is involved in two feline welfare organizations. We recently had a chance to talk about her work.
Q:I see you’re involved with the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition and Cat Crusaders. Can you talk briefly about the missions of these organizations and how you became involved?
A: The San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition (SAFCC) and Community Cat Crusaders have similar missions—to trap, neuter, and return (TNR) feral cats. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of homeless cats and to improve their lives. In the course of doing this, trappers come across a number of friendly cats and kittens that have been abandoned. We bring these cats and kittens into our homes and foster them. We ensure they get fully vetted (spayed/neutered); vaccinated, and microchipped, and then we adopt them out into forever homes.
I initially got involved with fostering through Community Cat Crusaders, which primarily operates in the Converse, Texas area. Shortly after Christine Cramer and her husband, Robert, started the organization, I came across Christine via social media. She was looking for cat carriers, and I happened to have some extras. We met, I was thrilled with what they were trying to accomplish, and I volunteered to help. The next day I was fostering a mama cat and her babies; and the day after that four more babies came to my home.
Over time, I also became involved with the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition as a foster. San Antonio has a huge population of homeless dogs and cats. As with Community Cat Crusaders, my involvement with the San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition began through social media, where I met one of their fosters, who like me, specializes in orphaned bottle baby kittens.
Q:The San Antonio Feral Cat Coalition website talks about reducing the population of feral cats through a policy of TNR. Can you tell us a little about how this works? Do vets volunteer the spay/neuter services?
A: First and foremost, cats can (and do) breed like rabbits. So, the more cats that are spayed and neutered, the less homeless babies are born. Additionally, when one returns a spayed/neutered cat to its territory, it vastly reduces the likelihood that other, unaltered cats, will move into that territory. TNR programs not only reduce the population, but reduce fighting among cats, which improves their health.
SAFCC operates primarily on grant money and donations. With the grant money and donations, they are able to pay for low cost spay/neutering through several facilities including the San Antonio Humane Society and the Animal Defense League.
There are a number of trap teams that volunteer for the coalition. They often work on large trapping projects, such as at apartment complexes and feral cat colonies. In addition, the Coalition offers free TNR classes throughout the month. These classes normally only take 1 to 2 hours. Once an individual has taken the class, they can borrow traps to TNR cats in their neighborhood. The cats can then be taken to The Humane Society or Animal Defense League, where the cats are altered and given a rabies vaccination for only $20, thanks to the generous payment assistance offered by SAFCC.
Q:Can you tell me a little about what you do for each organization.
A: My primary function with each organization is to foster orphaned bottle baby kittens until they are old enough for adoption (8–12 weeks). Most of the kittens I foster come to me when they are anywhere from 1 day old to 3 weeks old. Bottle feeding kittens is something of a specialty within the cat fostering community, in that they need to be fed every 2 to 3 hours, 24 hours a day, until they are about 10 days old at which point they can sleep through the night. However, I am privileged to be able to work from home, which allows me the freedom to take on this rewarding responsibility.
In addition to fostering, I produce the financial reports for both organizations and the foster/adoption statistics for the SAFCC adoption program, which we call The Community Cat Adoption Program (CCAP). I also started a CCAP leadership team. Together, with the leadership team and other fosters, I am working to find ways to reduce costs and improve the health of the cats and kittens that come into our care. Because we rely solely on grants and donations, this is imperative to our ability to continue to operate. I also work with them to recruit more fosters and to educate fosters and the public on how to tell when a kitten has been abandoned, verses when mom has just wondered off to eat; and how to care for bottle baby kittens when they truly have been abandoned. Finally, most recently, I started a Facebook page for the Community Cat Adoption Program to advertise adoption events and adoptable cats and kittens.
Q:Briefly, what does a typical day like working for Cat Crusaders?
A: As with SAFCC, my primary function with Community Cat Crusaders is fostering kittens. My typical day starts at about 5:30am. After I have had my first cup of coffee I spend the next 3 hours feeding all the kittens, cleaning the litter boxes, and sanitizing the kitten nursey. I then sit down to work at my paying job. Interspersed throughout my day, I take breaks from my paying job to feed the babies and spend some time socializing them so that they will make awesome family members when they are adopted into their forever homes.
Somewhere around 5:30pm, I once again take care of litter boxes, sanitation, and feedings, before sitting back down at my computer again. All the babies get tucked in for the night with their final feeding at 8:30pm, except of course those that are under 10 days. The kittens under 10 days are kept in crates with heating pads, and they will be fed throughout the night.
Q:What do you see as the biggest obstacle to reducing the number of feral cats in urban areas?
A: There are three primary obstacles. First is the lack of access to low cost spay/neuter clinics. The city does have several, but they only offer services to certain zip codes and they do not offer transportation. In short, pet owners either can’t afford to alter their cats or they don’t have the transportation to get them altered.
The second biggest obstacle is when people can no longer care for their pets and they simply abandon them. Often, the people who are doing this are the very same people who could not afford to have their pet spayed or neutered.
And the final obstacle is lack of knowledge. Many people still do not understand how spaying/neutering their pets can improve the pet’s quality of life. For example, neutering a male cat by 4 months of age significantly reduces the odds he will spray (mark) your home.
Q:What would you want the public most to know about feline health and wellbeing?
A:Spay/neuter and vaccinate. Those two things alone will greatly improve the quality of life for all felines. And whenever possible, flea preventatives on both indoor and outdoor cats will reduce the most common illnesses found in felines.
Additionally, cats that are truly feral are happiest if they are returned to their same outdoor location. They do not make good house pets and will not be happy living indoors. Conversely, stray/friendly cats will be happiest and healthiest if they are kept indoors. They have been taught to rely on humans for food, water, protection and affection.
Editor’s Note: With winter bearing down, two feral kittens were rescued in the nick of time. Can Velma and Chaplin adjust to indoor life? Find out in this feral cat rescue story.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.